NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Enrollment kicked off Wednesday for Louisiana's new expanded Medicaid program designed to help Louisiana's low-income workers. Right away, 175,000 people enrolled.
"This coverage will give you access to care, and give your providers access to reimbursement," Gov. John Bel Edwards said to a potential recipient.
Edwards came to the state-owned University Medical Center in New Orleans for the official start of enrollment
"The coverage is effective on July 1, and so I would hope you would take advantage of that. It will be good for you, it will be good for the state," he said to another family.
"Just keep putting illnesses off over and over again," said Todd Buteaux.
His young daughter already has government-funded health insurance, but he and his wife do not. For the couple, the thought of hospitalization is scary.
"If something like that were to happen, then we wouldn't know what to do. Then we're in over our head, living paycheck to paycheck and we're working two jobs here and a job there," said Buteaux.
The state expects at least 375,000 people to benefit, and UMC is among the hospitals with sign-up stations.
"For me, this isn't liberal versus conservative, Republican versus Democrat. This is right versus wrong, not right versus left," the governor said.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal refused federal funds to expand Medicaid in accordance with the federal health care reform law. But Edwards immediately authorized the program upon taking office. Louisiana joins 30 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding the number of eligible beneficiaries.
Edwards said expansion of Medicaid saves state government almost $200 million the first year.
"That $184 million in savings is critical for us to be successful, and we have a second special session where we're going to be more successful, as well, so that we can make sure that we can stand by not just our Medicaid patients, but by their providers," Edwards said.
The governor and his staff said the expansion of Medicaid will be a huge benefit to workers in the New Orleans area.
"Now with access, with more than a 100,000 people in the GNO area, I challenge our providers to open their doors, put out their welcome mats," said Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
Uninsured workers were thrilled to apply.
"It would mean the world to me because I could go to the doctor when I'm sick or feeling bad, or with no problem," said Christiana Ford.
"If there is eligibility, I'll keep trying, yes," said Jeremy Moore.
"It's a great thing for uninsured people to have better access," said Will Laird, who owes a local hospital $100,000 because of his lack of insurance.
"We are certain to have hiccups, but we are going to be successful," said Edwards.